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New U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy: from the Peace Party to the War Party

14.04.2022

During his presidential campaign, the current US President Joe Biden promised to announce that the sole purpose of US nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies. However, recent news says that in the new Nuclear Posture Review, the Biden administration has adopted an approach close to that of the Obama administration, which left open the option for the use of nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear threats.

Only select members of the US Congress were acquainted with the new version of the nuclear policy on March 28, while the publication of the declassified version is expected in April. Nevertheless, many experts associate such a change in Biden's position with the latest events unfolding around Ukraine.

Artem Kvartalnov, a junior research fellow at PIR Center, commented on the situation:

“Indeed, when the classified version of the Nuclear Posture Review was submitted to the US Congress in late March, arms control and disarmament experts called the new document a disappointment - or even a "failure". If we detach ourselves from the broader political context, then one could not agree more with such assessments. However, given the existing awareness of internal dynamics within the Biden Administration, as well as the logic of recent geopolitical events, this outcome is not surprising. When Leonor Tomero was fired last September, one could already draw very concrete conclusions regarding the results of the struggle between doves and warmongers. In April 2022, it is quite illogical to expect some kind of revenge from those who would like to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in military policy”.

In addition to changes in American nuclear strategy, changes are coming in the fate of American nuclear weapons in Europe. For example, according to the Biden administration's 2023 defence budget request, the United States plans to reconstruct storage facilities for “special weapons” in the UK. The latter is mentioned in this document along with Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey – the countries that today store the American B61 gravity nuclear bombs.

Hans Christensen, director of the nuclear information project of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), believes that the US plans to reconstruct its air base at Lakenheath, 100 km northeast of London. Until 2008 the same B61s were stored in Lakenheath, whose upgraded version, equipped with a guidance system, is planned to be put into full production in May as B61-12.

On the other hand, Christensen is not sure that the United States will increase its nuclear stockpiles in Europe. According to him, men in the White House want to protect nuclear deterrents from improved versions of Russian cruise missiles, and for that they want to have as many ready-made storage facilities as possible in order to move objects between them if necessary.

At the same time, on April 12, the US National Nuclear Security Administration announced that two rounds of subcritical nuclear tests were conducted at the Nevada test site last year. The experiments were conducted on June 22 and September 16, 2021, which makes them the first nuclear tests conducted by the United States under the Biden administration.

Subcritical nuclear tests are an important element in the modernization of the US nuclear arsenal, as well as in the development of the new Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) cruise missile. It is important to note that last year's tests in June and September were part of three consecutive tests, the first of which was conducted during the Trump administration in November 2020.

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